David Maxim, a San Francisco painter whose accomplishment far outstrips his renown, has a show of works on paper at Lawson that anyone must see who cares to know what sophistication in contemporaryaart looks like.
Without making a program of it, Maxim took Bay Area Figuration in a completely unexpected and highly personal direction. Rather than confine figuration to the picture plane, he treated the pictorial support as a kinde of backdrop against which to stage all kinds of incident, with references ranging from the viscerally local to the cosmic.
Maxim's big paintings have frequently incorporated near-life-size swaddled mannequins, ambiguously deployed like giant marionettes to evoke everything from eroticism and rescue to violence and mourning.
In the years when public mindfulness of AIDS was high, these conjuctions of figures often seemed to evoke the epidemic's tragic dimensions. Now they probably have broader existential reverberations.
Faceless male figures appear in Maxim's watercolors also: "The Leapfrog Effect" (2007), has one bounding over the head and shoulders of another. Working his medium so wet that the figures nearly lost definition, he apparently tilted the paper one way, then the another, so that streaks of excess fluid elaborated the imagery. The resulting tendrils in "The Leapfrog Effect" recall the cordds from which menneqhins sometimes hang in his constructed paintings, and make the drawing digures look as if they are cossing a rope bridge, one on the other's shoulders.
Such ambiguities may sound easy, even automatic, but they come only to an artist who has relaxed into his practice over decades, as Maxim has.